UConn claims to welcome diversity, including students who have a variety of gender identities, gender expressions and sexual orientations. However, many students who live in the Gender Inclusive (GI) unit at UConn, where I live, do not believe this is the case. Instead, they believe UConn is attempting to earn brownie points by claiming to support marginalized communities, while taking no legitimate steps to support the community.
The complaints of seventh-semester student Robyn Ventura began when GI was moved from Whitney to Brock two years ago, at the end of the 2017-2018 school year. Him and others claimed this decision was made without input from residents who lived in GI, many of whom had concerns. At the time, he was concerned about more people living in the building who are not part of Gender Inclusive Housing.
“Having more people in the building who are not part of the community or allies increases the likelihood of an anti-LGBT+ incident occurring,” Ventura said.
Unfortunately, these fears have not been unfounded. Ventura said during the 2018-2019 school year, residents often had to deal with people “saying really transphobic things and threatening things about transgender people” in the quiet study lounge.
This year, students had to deal with a severe bias incident. A student who witnessed the incident said, “I heard a group of drunk men coming up from the staircase with the intention of using the bathroom. They were like, ‘Let’s use the special bathroom,’ and called it the ‘it’ bathroom, I believe. They said they were going to piss in the shower.” The group later tore one of the posts off of the board created by the floor’s RA.
These problems are a sign of UConn’s failures in protecting the diverse student population it claims to be so proud of. Gender Inclusive is a great resource for transgender and nonbinary students, but UConn’s actions continue to limit its ability to reach those it is meant to serve.
Ventura and others also claimed that Amy Crim, who was then and still is in charge of GI, said “in a phone call that the Gender Inclusive Community did not exist, when a transgender student specifically requested to be placed in the Gender Inclusive Community.”
Clearly, this is a major problem; a unit based around a minority population can’t function if that population is rendered unable to learn about the existence of the community.
The GI community has, in its 11 years of existence, moved three times. People who lived in the community when it was still in Whitney speak wistfully about its time there, but that had its own issues as well, which led to the Brock move. Whitney is not accessible as it lacks an elevator, so disabled students were unable to live in GI. The problem is that Brock Hall, where the unit currently resides, is perhaps even less accessible than Whitney. Only one bathroom on the first two floors, out of four, is accessible. The kitchen is in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act, since it has no countertop space and doesn’t include enough space to turn around in a wheelchair. This means that moving there did not result in a more accessible environment for students.
UConn must improve their support for minority students. Transgender and nonbinary students need more than empty promises and blind hopes; we need real support. Most people who work for Residential Life have never been part of our community, have never had to worry about their safety from others on a daily basis. Residential Life needs to be more willing to listen to student concerns, as well as actually making the general population aware that GI is an option. Beyond that, they need to make changes in the way Brock is laid out in order to actually make it accessible, as that was supposedly the point of moving there.
If UConn wants to claim it’s a diverse campus, it should actually have to act on those goals. Transgender and nonbinary students deserve to live in housing where their upstairs neighbors are not constantly antagonistic. For UConn to be a truly diverse campus, they need to be willing to listen to us and to understand that sometimes, words aren’t enough. We need actions, too, real change. We need to be listened to and included in decisions that impact our security so that all of us get to learn in safety.
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Ashton Stansel is a campus correspondent for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.